Today is the birthday of Hope Sandoval, lead singer of Mazzy Star, and of her other band, Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. Mazzy Star created a sound that suited the Nineties and seemed to stay there—their three albums date from 1990, 1993, and 1996. I didn’t follow Sandoval and her subsequent band, though I did hear Bavarian Fruit Bread at some point. The lure of Mazzy Star wasn’t only Sandoval’s unmistakable voice, it was also the varied textures of David Roback’s guitar, so I stayed behind with Mazzy.
So imagine my surprise to find Mazzy Star returned in 2013 with a new album that sounds like it picks up right where Among My Swan (my favorite of theirs) left off. Indeed, the latter album ends with the haunting track “Look on Down from the Bridge,” which is a song about moving on, and the new album, Seasons of Your Day, opens with today’s song, “In the Kingdom,” and the lines: “I took the train into the city / You know the one that goes under the bridge.” Coming back into the city, under the bridge, returning to where you once belonged. The song has that sense of coming back and getting on with it: “If all is right in the kingdom tonight / You know we’ll play songs in this town.” Love the way she goes up on "king-dom tonight," letting us feel like, yes, maybe all is right.
I saw Sandoval, Roback and company play songs in this town (well, NYC), back in the fall, and it was one of those “get back” moments in a lot of ways. My daughter and I had imbibed quite a bit of Mazzy Star in her teen years, and now she’s in her thirties. Time has marched inexorably on and that might be cause for some kind of melancholic consideration of how no one—least of all the band members—are as young as they were when we first loved them. And other things have happened—Bert Jansch, who plays on one track on the album, has died, as has William Cooper, who plays violin on the album’s title track. We might say that the album has a certain survivor quality, paying tribute to the notion that, just maybe, we can go back to where we were and pick up where we left off. At least that was the takeaway that worked for me.
And today’s track worked for me right from the start, that organ sound seeming like it could be at home at a carnival/funeral, then the loopy, bell-like sounds of Roback’s slide, gliding in like glistening oil. Then—that voice. The drawl she brings to: “I thought I was list-en-ing” (that word, twanged) / “To a band play a song that changed me” (and she suddenly becomes lightened, giving us as much as we might need of retrospect and present joy at once), then goes into six “hey”s, the first three giving us the lift of the melody, and the second three almost trailing off, meditatively.
Listening to Hope Sandoval sing just has to make you love women. I’m not saying you have to love her, specifically. But her voice exults in a quality that only female voices have, that timbre that is almost tremulous but, in her case, so assured, so relaxed—and not in a mellow, grooving way, but in a kind of feline, graceful way. She lets whispers and slurs act as some would treat grace notes, making it feel as if her breath is in your ear, on your neck. And then she hits the glockenspiel a bit after the second verse, creating the little bell-tones that inflect the lovely guitar figures Roback seems able to spin out endlessly. Fascinating as his guitar is—and he’s probably the guitarist of his generation I most like listening to—we’re always waiting for that voice to come back, to tease us again with its edgy sweetness, playing at its immediate identity as “the waif makes good,” singing a song that “changed me.”
Happy birthday, Hope!